Hello all! Last week, we checked out a loud, awesome shoot-em-up which was the precursor to Ikaruga.
Today, things get a lot darker.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a Bethesda-published first-person game that came out for the Xbox and PC ten years ago. Based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, CoC takes place in 1922 and casts you as private investigator Jack Walters. Jack has only recently been released from Arkham Asylum (not the Batman one) after being locked up for six years. What Jack sees in the opening mission is enough to drive him insane.
Jack takes on a case six months after his release from the asylum. He’s to find a missing person named Brian Burnham, who has disappeared from his job at a general store in the creepy town of Innsmouth. Naturally, things in Innsmouth are not what they appear, with fishmen, monsters, and people out to kill you abound.
These police look trustworthy.
There’s a lot of games that take inspiration from Lovecraft. Bloodborne takes a tiny bit from him, in a recent example, as does Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, etc. This game, however, is absolutely steeped in it. Of course, it has an advantage over other games: it’s explicitly set in Lovecraft’s creations, rather than merely being inspired by them. The game takes most of its plot from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but it tells an original tale.
The developers (a since-closed company called Headfirst) seemed to really understand Lovecraft’s writings; there’s a fair bit of fanservice in the form of character cameos and other small asides, but mainly, it’s the atmosphere. Innsmouth is pretty sparse by today’s gaming standards, but then again, it’s kind of supposed to be. Lots of creepy dudes tell you to scram because they don’t like outsiders. From the moment you step off the bus, you feel tremendously unwelcome. The game is fantastic at putting you on edge. And the environments just get better from there; there’s a sequence on a ship I won’t spoil here, save that it involves Dagon himself, which may or may not mean something to you depending on your knowledge of Lovecraft.
There’s also the lack of weapons. Yes, you do eventually get guns (and even a badass energy weapon towards the end), but it takes you such a long time to get even one. You get in situations early on where a gun would be incredibly useful. Such moments are where your average game would throw you some manner of weapon. CoC is not your average game. On my last playthrough, I didn’t get a gun until a couple hours in. Two hours. And even then, ammo is scarce, and your enemies can be tough, so you spend a lot of time sneaking about, conserving ammo until you absolutely need it.
This gun ought to work against those, right? RIGHT??
Keeping guns from you and keeping the ammunition sorely limited turns out to be a smart move. Simply put, wasting shots has much more meaning here. You can’t just spray bullets everywhere, because you might need them later. You begin to treasure your weapons a bit more than in other games.
Oh, and not wasting shots becomes pretty tough, because CoC has no HUD. At all. Ever. No crosshairs, no life bar, nothing. It’s a textbook example of how to pull off a HUD-less game, but I can see why people would be put off by it. Aiming is done by iron sights, but you still have to hold steady. And then there’s the health system, which is either smart or aggravating. Jack’s a fragile human being, and he takes damage to specific limbs and body parts. Different wounds need to be cured with specific healing items (bandages, splints, sutures and antidote), and not curing them can lead to issues. Taking damage to an arm leads to a drop in aiming ability, and a broken leg slows you down. Slows you down a lot, actually; it took me several minutes to cross a room with one broken leg. It can be tough, because you may not have the right medical supplies for your injuries. Sometimes, minor wounds can heal up, but often, not healing leads to eventual death, signified by your view becoming dark and monochrome.
There’s also a kind of sanity management system at work; it’s a bit similar to Eternal Darkness. Basically, looking at disturbing things too long screws with your vision. It’s pretty immersive, in a sense. You get the feeling Jack can’t handle the things he’s seeing. It never really becomes a gameplay issue, positively or negatively. It’s just sort of there, and it never really impacts your game immensely. Just turn away from disturbing stuff and you’ll be fine.
Okay, I spoiled the ship/Dagon sequence a little. The game IS ten years old.
Call of Cthulhu is a bit of an overlooked gem; it didn’t really make an impact on release, and that’s really a shame. It’s one of the most unique shooters out there...I still call it a shooter, because, despite being mostly a psychological horror title, you do end up shooting just a bit more than you should. The game has its share of issues; it’s glitchy, Jack’s voice actor sounds a bit too tough and brave relative to his personality, and overall, the game is janky in spots. It’s still wonderful for Lovecraft fans, and may even send people unfamiliar with his work to seek it out.
It’s an absolutely brilliant horror title, and it’s a shame we never got a sequel, or anything that really took a page or two out of this game. I guess it remains one-of-a-kind, then. It’s an absolute must for Lovecraft fans who like games. It’s one of my favorite horror games of all time, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Also, go read anything by H.P. Lovecraft. I’d share my recommendations, but then I’d be here all day.
Next week-I’m covering a game that I mentioned in this article!